Sunday, July 30, 2017

Living a life of prayer

You, Lord, are in this place,
Your presence fills it.
Your presence is peace.
You, Lord, are in my heart,
Your presence fills it.
Your presences is peace.
You, Lord, are in my life,
Your presence fills it.
Your presence is peace.

Morning Worship

Welcome and Call to Worship

189 Be still for the presence of the Lord, the Holy one is here

Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

Reading: Matthew 4:23-25

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison,
he went away to Galilee.

He did not stay in Nazareth,
but went to live in Capernaum,
a town by Lake Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.

This was done to make what the prophet Isaiah had said come true:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

on the road to the sea, on the other side of the Jordan,
Galilee, land of the Gentiles!
The people who live in darkness
will see a great light.
On those who live in the dark land of death
the light will shine.”

Jesus went all over Galilee,
teaching in the synagogues,
preaching the Good News about the Kingdom,
and healing people who had all kinds of disease and sickness.

The news about him spread through the whole country of Syria,
so that people brought to him all those who were sick,
suffering from all kinds of diseases and disorders:
people with demons, and epileptics, and paralytics
— and Jesus healed them all.

Large crowds followed him from Galilee and the Ten Towns,
from Jerusalem, Judea, and the land on the other side of the Jordan.

Jesus the healer

You wouldn’t believe it now, but she was living in darkness, she was living in the dark land of death … and then the light shone into that darkness.

Her life was changed … completely … and all because of Jesus’s care and love

There’s nothing I like better than baking.
Baking bread for my family
Baking bread for my friends
Baking bread for people to buy

People smell my baking … and say I do it so well.

You must have been doing it all your life, they say.

But I haven’t.

There was a time when I just wasn’t well enough to do any baking.

That was a time when people didn’t want to have anything to do with me.

Even my family and all but the best of my friends wouldn’t even touch me.

They said I couldn’t belong.

I couldn’t go near the kitchen and they wouldn’t touch anything I’d touch … and they would keep their distance and I had to keep my distance.

It’s the most natural thing in the world … to bleed.

You get a little cut and you bleed – hold it tight and it stops bleeding.

It’s the most natural thing in the world when older girls bleed – it happens each month and then it stops.

It’s the most natural thing in the world.

But what happened to me wasn’t natural.

The bleeding … it just wouldn’t stop.

It kept coming – only a little, but enough.

For twelve long years I had been suffering … and no one could help me.

I had been to the doctors, but no one could help.

Then one day there was a great crowd and a great excitement.

Someone was in town I had heard about and longed to see.

The whisper went round … it’s Jesus.

He wouldn’t see me, I thought, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if he did.

I was careful to wrap myself up in long flowing robes so no one would recognize me.

I was careful not to touch too many people – but that was hard it was such a big crowd.

And then I was next to him.

All I wanted to do was to touch the robes he was wearing.

I did.

And something happened.

The bleeding, it stopped.

I knew something had changed.

I wanted to melt away into the crowd … but I couldn’t.

The crowd had gone quiet.

Jesus had stopped.

Someone has touched me, he said.

I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to say.

His friends were all telling him everybody had been touching him, the crowd was so big.

But I knew he had been touched … by me.

Someone has touched me, he said, I felt power flow from me.

And then I stood.

I caught his eye. And he didn’t turn away.

He just looked me in the eye.

And then he said those words I will never forget.

No one had called me that for such a long time.

Take heart. – I needed that strength

Daughter, he said as if I belonged.

Your faith has made you well,

That’s all.

I didn’t see him again.

But I was changed. I was better.

I could make friends again – I was part of the family again –

And now …
There’s nothing I like better than baking.
Baking bread for my family
Baking bread for my friends
Baking bread for people to buy

People smell my baking … and say I do it so well.

You must have been doing it all your life, they say.

Not quite, but I’ve been doing it ever since the darkness ended and the light began to shine in that moment I touched Jesus.

What a wonderful story of Jesus the healer who makes things well.

A Hy-Spirit Song

Activities for all over 3

The Beatitudes – the Congregation

It’s easy to think of them as the start of the most powerful teaching in the world, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount.

But the Jesus, Matthew has just introduced us to, is not just Jesus the teacher, he is Jesus the healer. He is Jesus the healer who invites us to share that love he has for people as we bring healing into a hurting world and as we live a life of prayer, prayer that makes a difference.

I want to return to the Beatitudes. As we share in the words of the Beatitudes let’s see in our mind’s eye Jesus bringing the light of his love into the darkness of our world, bringing his healing touch into the hurts that can be so overwhelming.

Sometimes things happen that make it feel dark inside, and the darkness saps the strength we once had. Things weigh heavily deep inside – and we feel poor in spirit. It is for our sake, Jesus said …

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a darkness to loss that can so quickly overwhelm. The darkness saps the strength we once had. Things weigh heavily deep inside … and we mourn. It is for our sake, Jesus said …

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There’s a darkness that makes us feel so low, so inadequate. We would love to stand tall, be strong, make a difference … but somehow we can’t. Others do the things that matter … things weigh heavily deep inside … It is for our sake, Jesus said,

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

There’s a darkness in our world that fills us with rage. The injustice of it all. It’s not fair. – how we long for things to be different, for justice to come. It is for our sake, Jesus said,

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

There’s a darkness in the spirit that can bring itself to forgive. A rift that opens up never to be filled. And sometimes it’s hard. So hard to have mercy. It is for our said, Jesus said,

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

There’s a darkness deep within as we know our failings, our weaknesses, our inadequacies. It is to us that Jesus reaches out to restore and renew and for our sake, Jesus said,

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

There’s a darkness in division that tears people apart, families apart, communities apart, nations apart. How easy it is to forget. It is for our sakes Jesus says,

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

And sometimes none of it seems to work. The darkness closes in once again – it is the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers who lose everything, and those who take seriously the way of Jesus who face the vilest of persecutions. It is for our sake, Jesus says,

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The people who live in darkness
will see a great light.
On those who live in the dark land of death
the light will shine.”

448 Lord, the light of your love is shining

Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt.

It’s the things we do all the time that we so easily take for granted.

And yet the things we do all the time are the things that matter most.

It’s when something we take for granted doesn’t work and goes wrong then we start to worry.

If Google’s anything to go by you and I do it roughly 16 times a minute. Put that another way we do it 960 times in an hour, 23,040 times a day, 8,409,600 times a year. I am pretty sure I am up to 538,214,400 … though I have to confess, I haven’t been counting.

Taking a breath is just what you do – all of us. It’s what keeps us going.

And when all is going well we don’t think about it, we just do it.

But if something happens and it doesn’t go well, then we cannot help but think about it.

There’s a wonderful hymn I love that speaks of prayer as if it were breath …

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
Our watchword at the gates of death,
We enter heaven with prayer.

A time to share

Can you think of a moment when prayer has made a difference? Or a moment when prayer has been very difficult?

A time to share

I have a feeling Jesus recognized that prayer could sometimes be very difficult. His followers needed to be taught how to pray … and when it came to the crunch not even the closest of those followers could stay awake to pray just for an hour.

Jesus also knew the difference prayer makes … it’s what he did when he went to be alone at the news of his cousin, John’s death. It’s what he did out thee in the garden, it’s what he did on the cross.

And it’s what he wants us to do.

Reading: Matthew 6:5-15

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites;
for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues
and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.
Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

But whenever you pray,
go into your room and shut the door
 and pray to your Father who is in secret;
and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 ‘When you are praying,
do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do;
for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them,
for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

 ‘Pray then in this way:

Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name.
   Your kingdom come.
   Your will be done,
     on earth as it is in heaven.
   Give us this day our daily bread.
   And forgive us our debts,
     as we also have forgiven our debtors.
   And do not bring us to the time of trial,
     but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you;
but if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

It’s my conviction that prayer works and healing happens.

That story of the woman with the issue of blood is a story that to me is very powerful and means the world. The power of the story lies in the touch and in the words of Jesus …

‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’

I don’t have stories to tell of remarkable miracles happening

I don’t have stories to tell of dramatic times of prayer making a difference.

I do bear witness to the fact that prayer works and healing ways that are beyond our understanding.

It was quite moving to hear Felicity tell the story of Howard Somervell: in the three years before we married she was the dietician at the Walsall Manor Hospital. She went along to a prayer group she found a little frustrating as it had nothing to do with the people she was concerned with. Then she joined another that included a couple of the consultants who prayed for those they were treating … seeing prayer and their practice of medicine as but two sides of the same coin.

At the time I belonged to a Baptist church in Bangor where I was training for the ministry. Most Sundays found me out and about taking services and preaching in churches in Anglesey and Gwynedd so I committed to going to the weekly prayer meeting and Bible study. One of those who belonged was a consultant and each week we prayed for healing: medicine and prayer but two sides of the same coin.

When we married we settled in Harden and it was good to go back a couple of months ago. In the last year we were there we were joined in the village by an Anglican Vicar who introduced us to services where we shared in the anointing of oil and the laying on of hands for healing. We’ve exchanged Christmas cards ever since and he has gone into chaplaincy ministry in the hospitals of Leeds.

We moved to Pontesbury and Minsterley in Shropshire to find that our GP was also a leading figure in our Pontesbury church and again we found ourselves sharing in prayers with the laying on of hands for healing. I found myself working in chaplaincy at Shropshire’s big psychiatric hospital.

In my pastoral ministry such prayer has continued. Such services may not have been a part of my ministry here at Highbury, but such prayer for healing has been.

Something has happened in all that ministry that brings me back to that touch of Jesus and those words he shared with that woman in the crowd.

In chaplaincy in a psychiatric hospital, in those I have in some ways been closest to in my pastoral ministry, in the illnesses that people have had in my close family, I have been aware that for those illnesses there is no simple cure. Indeed, for many of those illnesses there has been no cure.

Sometimes I wonder: is my faith not strong enough, my prayer not sincere enough.

I hear of other churches that speak of prayer that leads to miraculous cure – am I in the wrong place? Do I pray in the wrong way?

Troubling questions at times … but questions I find myself resolving as I come back to that touch of Jesus and those words he shared.

The story is in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Luke, the physician, is the one who notes how the woman had been to see lots of doctors and none had been able to help. Matthew it is, who includes one extra word in what he says finally to the woman.

The NRSV translates that one word with two English words and I cannot think of a single word in English that would do.

Take heart.

It’s a rich word.

Take courage.

Be brave isn’t quite right.

Be strong … maybe.

Draw on that strength you cannot have on your own, that comes from beyond you. Jesus had spoken of the way ‘power’ had gone from him.

It’s strength.

Think of prayer as a shopping list of requests – and it won’t be long before it disappoints.

Think of prayer as the Christian’s vital breath. It is something that connects us with God, that connects us with that strength from beyond ourselves that we need day by day.

Do that, and prayer takes on a power of its own.

Just to come alongside someone, just to be there with them, quietly praying – and sensing a strength from beyond ourselves to see us through. That strength I have seen – that strength I witness to.

Jesus goes on to address this woman who because of her condition has been cast out, has been untouchable, has been an outcast and he says to her ‘daughter’.

That’s the next thing that is so important in these words.

This outsider now belongs. More than that she’s family. It is the closest of those loving bonds that Jesus speaks to her.

There’s something about touch, something going on as we pray that binds us with people that means we belong we are family. And that in itself makes a difference.

Sometimes people may not seem to be aware, maybe they do not seem to know who we are … but that simple presence, that quietening, reassuring calm voice and gentle smile can make all the difference. It says we still belong, we are still family. There is a bond of love that ties us together.

Then come those wonderful words.

Your faith has made you well, the NRSV translates them as.

But the word itself is so much more than that.

It’s the word used simply for preserving someone from harm, for rescuing someone; it’s the word used to bring someone to safety from a life-threatening situation; it’s the word used of salvation with deeply spiritual overtones. And in relation to sickness and disease it speaks of someone who is healed or restored to health. [see Friberg lexicon)

There is a wholeness, a deepdown healing, that can come even when cure does not.

Last week I came to an end reflecting on the kindness of Jesus as a teacher and the call of Jesus to share in acts of kindness. I quoted Amelia Earhart and then came across a fascinating Radio 4 programme on iplayer still …

This morning on the Sunday programme  Catherine Fox, the novelist, spoke of the kindness of Jesus. She was contributing a short Reformation Sound byte, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. She was speaking of the power of hearing the Bible in your own language for the first time. It still has a remarkable power, she says, something those who have grown up with the Bible can easily forget.

She spoke of a friend of hers who is a convert to Christianbity from Iran, reading the Bible for the first time in Farsi.

Recently, she came to me, Catherine Fox went on, she was very excited. Jesus a very kind man – he cared for women.

And she began to tell a story it took  Catherine Fox a moment to realise it was not the story of a friend of this woman that had happened recently – it was the story of the woman in the crowd! But to this woman from Iran, reading it in her own language for the first time, it was so real. The woman might have been alive today.

Jesus, a very kind man.

And that’s the power of those words of Jesus.

Prayer works.

Healing happens.

And so I pray that that healing touch of Jesus can come to us at that point at which we need that healing most that we may have that wholeness, that peace that blessing, Jesus alone can give.

Such is the prayer we can share with each other.

Such is the prayer to live by.

To lead us into our time of prayer, let’s remain seated and sing …

716 Come and find the quiet centre

Prayers of Concern

716 Christ be beside me

Words of Blessing
Retiring Collection

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light